4:31 p.m.: A chipper fan in the front row hoists a sign proposing marriage to Krewella’s Jahan and Yasmine Yousaf. On the break of “Legacy (Save My Life),” the sprightly sisters perch atop the main stage booth and goad the crowd to go wild in advance of the drop, which arrives in a flurry of flame and cryo jet plumes.
Tomorrowland 2014 Day 1 Highlights: Avicii, Dillon Francis, Kygo & More
5:53 p.m.: Markus Schulz’s trance marathon is in full swing on the Legends of Trance stage. The German DJ serves up energetic offerings with searing synths and vigorous percussion, raising both hands and fluttering his fingers while windswept confetti and dedicated trance fans defy threatening skies. Schulz transitions into a remix of the Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” while cheerful girls in Native American headdresses break it down on the dance floor.
6:05 p.m.: “Excuse me,” a fan says, approaching me by the Format T stage’s guardrail. “Can I ask – is that Skream?” I check the program and confirm it for him. “Oh ok,” he replies before wandering off. “I can’t recognize his music. He came from dubstep.” As if on cue, the British artist mixes into Mind Against’s “Avalon,” a brooding Life and Death number that couldn’t be further from his former sound.
6:17 p.m.: Gary Beck starts spinning at the Knee Deep stage as the grumbling clouds relent to rain. The wicker structure covering the stage couldn’t be less useful in keeping the crowd dry, but the Scottish artist’s merciless techno beats wouldn’t let them leave if they wanted to.
6:35 p.m.: “Hi Tomorrowland!” exclaims Nicky Romero. “This is new music!” The Dutch dance star delivers an unreleased vocal tune to the stalwart main stagers waiting out the storm. Romero reaches for a towel to wipe the rain from his face before whirling around on the drop, dancing and pointing to an animated crowd shrouded in blue ponchos.
7:40 p.m.: It’s a strange sight to see Green Velvet speaking into his headphones, but he hasn’t lost his mind. He’s just jerry-rigged them to act like a microphone to add his own voice to the layers of driving dark techno being disseminated. Wearing futuristic shades and a fringe of green hair, the Chicago techno veteran pairs rumbling dark voices with upbeat percussion while bubbles lazily waft over the scene.
9:29 p.m.: Despite the criticism his mixing has received in certain dance circles, David Guetta is actually one of the weekend’s most active main stagers on the mixer. Clad in a black tank top and shimmering leather pants, the French artist judiciously applies the filter with quick-wristed twists and executes rapid cross fader cuts between channels. With arms upheld to salute the audience, Guetta drops into a high-octane remix of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Heads Will Roll” while fire spews forth from the front of the stage.
9:49 p.m.: Markus Schulz is still going strong. Self-proclaimed trance family members revel in Schulz’s hefty lead synthesizers and snare-buoyed builds. Geometric green visuals conquer the screen as he mixes into Pryda’s anthemic “Allein,” curating a continuous dance party for the diehards to delight in.
10:06 p.m.: Paul Kalkbrenner holds court at Dave Clarke’s opera stage, manning a serious mixer console and controlling elements in Ableton Live. The Berlin techno legend enthralls the sizable audience with nuanced techno beats and chopped vocal snippets while the looming Ferris wheel behind him sits still and illuminated. A woman inexplicably ascends to a full standing stance atop towering shoulders beside a Swiss flag flying high. Melodic and percussive elements become indistinguishable as Kalkbrenner settles into a fluid and minimal groove, sending shivers and cheers through the crowd.
10:18 p.m.: Finely crafted techno gives way to an orchestral progression that prompts Kalkbrenner’s packed crowd to show their enthusiasm. Onstage flames dance in bursts while the stage crackles with blue light. The interlude ends as powerful techno retakes the fore. Golden pendulum visuals usher in a fitting finale as streamers shoot into the crowd flanked by unflagging orange fire.
10:28 p.m.: “Please welcome the conductor Dave Clarke!” an announcer’s voice booms as fireworks alight in iridescent ovations. The British veteran pummels his personal stage with driving bass-heavy techno as pyrotechnics fire overhead.
11:09 p.m.: “Tomorrowland put your hands up!” Steve Aoki hollers as the crowd quickly obeys. “This is another brand new song!” A swell of cheers spreads across the main stage as a female singer croons a refrain of “I feel it for the first time.” Aoki sings the words himself and points expectantly at the crowd, who take up the chorus in no time. Considering they’ve never heard the track before, the lyrics ring oddly true. The Dim Mak boss will soon be joined in the booth by Belgian hometown heroes Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike under the eyebrow-raising moniker “3 Are Legend.”
11:20 p.m.: Back on the Legends of Trance stage, Paul van Dyk plays live piano chords over a tightly coiled trance beat while attendees wave neon blue scepters in time with his hands. The German dance veteran climbs atop the booth and dances while crisscrossing lasers cascade across the ebullient crowd.
11:53 p.m.: Maceo Plex’s recent release “Conjure Balearia” boasts an unimpeachable bass line that manhandles the Café d’Anvers crowd. Recoiling into movement, the dance floor transforms into a turgid sea whose waves mirror the notes of the track’s forceful groove. A collective intake of breath can be felt when the interstellar melody kicks in, carried by synthesizers embroiled in an identity crisis between techno and trance. As the song lapses into its atmospheric break, the fans stand transfixed. The muscular bass line’s return finishes the festival in superlative fashion.